After graduating from Glendale High School , Carlyle Brown attended the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in San Francisco from 1939 to 1940.
From 1942 to 1945 Brown served in the U.S. Navy. During his Navy service Brown wrote a fan letter to the Russian painter, Pavel Tchelitchew, who had immigrated to New York City just before the outbreak of World War II. Brown's letter initiated a very intense relationship, with numerous letters exchanged during the four years of service. Tchelitchew urged Brown to draw as much as possible and to experiment with different methods of artistic creation. Their correspondence confirmed the mentoring influence that Brown already felt from Tchelitchew's art.
Just before being released from the Navy, Brown was sent to Indiana University in Bloomington to recruit personnel. While attending a campus theatre production he met his future wife, drama student Margery Hulett, newly crowned Arbutus Queen.
At the beginning of 1946, encouraged by Tchelitchew, Brown moved to New York City , residing first at the Hotel Seville and later on in a studio near Gramercy Park . He immediately immersed himself in the New York scene, meeting numerous artists and personalities in the circle around Tchelitchew: poets Charles Henri Ford and W.H. Auden; painters Eugene Berman, Corrado Cagli and Morris Graves; and from the music and dance scene Leonard Bernstein, Lincoln Kirstein and Gian Carlo Menotti. Kirk Askew, director of Durlacher Brothers Gallery (Tchelitchew's representative) gave Brown his first one-man show in October of 1947.
Like Berman and Tchelitchew, Brown did not disdain the world of fashion as some artists did. He received commissions from Harper's Bazaar in 1947 and socialized with fashion people. His paintings were avidly collected by photographers Cecil Beaton and Clifford Coffin, fashion designers Antonio Canovas del Castillo and Charles James, jewellery designer Fulco di Verdura and designer Van Day Truex.
At this time he was reunited with Margery Hulett, who was in New York modeling for Vogue (she is memorably seen in the famous 1948 photograph by Beaton of eight models wearing Charles James dresses, adjusting her hair at the mirror in the center of the photograph). They became engaged and got married on June 12th of the same year.
Attending their wedding was the famous English art collector Edward James, the foremost patron of Salvador Dali.
An invitation to join the eccentric collector at his estate in England was accepted, and in February of 1948, Carlyle and Margery sailed to England , planning to stay no longer than six months before returning to New York . West Dean Park, in Chichester , Sussex , was their residence for exactly six months. From West Dean the Browns took two trips to Paris , where they met painters Leonor Fini and Leonid Berman (brother of Eugene ). In September of 1948 they moved to Costafabbri, a small town just outside the walls of Siena , Italy , suggested by Edward James as a city untouched by the destruction of World War II.
In March of 1949 they traveled south to the island of Ischia to find a house for the following summer and by the end of the year they had moved to Rome and settled into the world renowned artistic community in the Via Margutta. Here they were part of a circle of friends and artists which included Afro and Mirko Basaldella, Renzo Vespignani, Novella Parigini, Sibilla Aleramo and Alberto Moravia.
While Brown had, until this point, painted mostly portraits and figures, the summers spent on Ischia brought a different light to Carlyle Brown's subjects: this is the time when he started focusing on still-life subjects incorporating objects from the ambiance around him (bottles of wine, lemons, eggs, loaves of bread, flowers) set against Italian landscapes.
In Forio d'Ischia he was part of a large community of painters including Leonardo Cremonini, Fabrizio Clerici, Eduard Bargheer, Aldo Pagliacci, Enrico d'Assia and Margherita Russo. Other personalities who were part of the scene on Ischia were W.H. Auden and Chester Kallmann, along with many local writers and painters.
While in Rome and on the island of Ischia , a long list of photographers were adding portraits of Carlyle Brown to their portfolio: Henri Cartier-Bresson, for Harper's Bazaar in 1953, Herbert List and Max Scheler, John Deakin, Brad Fuller, Patrick O'Higgins and Robert Emmett Bright.
Carlyle and Margery's son, Christopher, was born in 1954. Carlyle and Margery cared deeply for each other, however Carlyle strayed from their relationship in liaisons with men. One man, a Roman laborer, he seemed to hold in particular affection and was the subject of a number of Brown's paintings. Carlyle and Margery divorced in the late 50's, however they remained friends and both continued to live in Italy .
While living in Italy, Carlyle Brown took part in many solo- and group-exhibitions in the United States, particularly at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in 1950,'51, '53, '55, '57 and '59, at the Bodley Gallery, also in New York, in 1962. Among the group-shows were exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1948 and 1951, the Art Institute in Chicago in 1951 and 1952, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Toledo Museum of Art in 1951 and 1952, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1952, the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington in 1957, 1959 and 1961.
The celebrated gallery owners Gaspero del Corso and Irene Brin presented Carlyle Brown's first solo exhibit in Italy , at their famous Galleria dell'Obelisco in Rome in 1954. Brown's last show took place at Charles Moses' Galleria 88 , in Via Margutta in June of 1963. Two posthumous shows were held at the Banfer Gallery in New York in 1964 and 1965.
Carlyle Brown died at the age of 44 on December 21, 1963 in Rome , Italy . His death was caused by an overdose of pills and alcohol, although whether he intended to take his own life is not clear. Carlyle Brown is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome , alongside his son Christopher who was killed in an automobile accident in 1984 and his former wife Margery, who died of leukemia in the year 2000.